After two consecutive mid-season trades, James Harden is on his third team in as many years.
‘The Beard’ will start the season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
However, as it was in Brooklyn, Harden will need to take on a new role in Philly.
Joel Embiid averaged 33-13-3.5-1.5-1.5 on 63% TS in 22 games after James Harden joined the Sixers last season
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) July 22, 2022
Instead, he will assume lead guard duties – initiating the offense, keeping players involved, and jump-starting the transition game.
Whereas Harden has been the focal point in years past, that will no longer be the case.
Embiid will carry that title and Harden will do more of what he has done since leaving Houston – facilitate.
Pass First, Shoot Second
With the Houston Rockets, Harden became a player the league had never seen before.
He was one of the greatest offensive players the league had ever seen, powering one of the greatest offenses in NBA history by himself.
Between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 seasons, Harden was unguardable.
He blended high volume with high efficiency to the tune of 31.7 points per game on 61.4% true shooting.
He had a Usage Percentage of 35.8%, which peaked in 2018-19 at 40.5% – the second-highest single-season mark of all time since the stat started being tracked in 1977-78.
During that time, Houston’s offenses finished 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 11th, and 2nd in terms of points per game.
Some people may not have enjoyed watching it, but it was wildly efficient and effective.
Harden will no longer be asked to be the sole driver of the offense.
Instead, he will try to craft an efficient offense by setting up teammates.
Harden has certainly lost a step since his prime which is a big reason why he can no longer drop 30 a night with ease.
However, that does not mean he is not still greatly feared by defenses.
2021-22's top 10 players in our new On-Ball Gravity metric:
1. Luka Doncic
2. Joel Embiid
3. Dame Lillard
4. James Harden
5. Steph Curry
6. Trae Young
7. Chris Paul
8. DeMar DeRozan
9. Jayson Tatum
10. Paul George
These players bend defenses most when the ball is in their hands
— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) August 29, 2022
Opposing teams still respect him which has allowed him to break defenses down with his passing.
Harden has always been an excellent passer but has rarely gotten credit for it.
His gravity on offense frees teammates for open shots and Harden is willing and able to find them.
Over the past two seasons, Harden is averaging 10.5 assists per game.
‘The Beard’ will still be asked to score.
But his primary task will be setting up teammates to score.
Harden Should Make Embiid’s Life Easier
Embiid is the biggest beneficiary of having Harden on the team.
For years, Embiid has had to generate his own offense due to the lack of an elite guard to play with.
Ben Simmons was an excellent complement to Embiid on defense but was just as poor of a fit on offense.
Harden has no such trouble with Embiid on offense.
One would be hard-pressed to find two players who have a better fit on that side of the court.
Harden’s skills have already been discussed at length, but Embiid is no slouch himself.
While his calling card is working in the post, Embiid is dangerous from all three levels on the court.
He’s a career 49% shooter from the field and 34% from three.
While 34% may not strike fear into many people, he has hit 37% of his triples in two consecutive seasons.
Embiid’s ability to be dominant inside and outside of the paint makes him an excellent partner for Harden in the pick-and-roll.
And their partnership has been well documented.
James Harden and Joel Embiid are the most efficicent pick-and-roll duo in the NBA. @KevinOConnorNBA looks at how Harden brings out the best in Embiid: https://t.co/LSA4rxLSEC pic.twitter.com/YghCxNOuoz
— RingerNBA (@ringernba) May 7, 2022
The Embiid-Harden pick-and-roll was nearly unstoppable this past season even with Harden coming over mid-season and the two having little time to practice together.
In his article on The Daily Six, Derek Bodner dove into the stats regarding the pairing.
Prior to Harden coming aboard, Embiid finished a pick and roll about 49 times a year and averaged ~1.2 points per possession.
In 19 games with Harden, Embiid finished 63 pick and rolls (a pace of 271 in a year) and averaged ~1.55 points per possession.
Embiid was already one of the elite offensive players in the NBA.
Pairing him with a guard who maximizes his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses should only elevate his game.